Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History

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Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, by Norman G. Finkelstein. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. 2005. xi + 226 pages. Appends, to p. 317. Index to p. 332. $22.50.

Norman Finkelstein, of DePaul University, devotes the first section of Beyond Chutzpah to books written by Phyllis Chesler, Gabriel Schoenfeld, and Abraham Foxman about the "New Anti-Semitism." With considerable sarcasm and scorn (e.g., "Poor Elie [Wiesel] is shocked shocked!..." (p. 61), he dismisses these discussions of anti-Semitism as exaggerated, hysterical, paranoid, and cynically calculated to parry and taint any criticism of Israel. There is not a word in this section about the undeniably scurrilous anti-Jewish material emanating in abundance from Arabic circles in Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere in recent years, extensively documented by MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which Finkelstein never mentions.

Most of the book is a sustained attack on Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz, focused especially on his The case for Israel.1 Finkelstein's method is to rebut assertions favorable to Israel with long quotations from the publications of B 'Tselem (The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Their reports attacking Israeli policy and behavior are presented as sacred authorities that need merely be quoted to establish facts. There is no effort to analyze, to balance, or to contextualize. Not only the "facts" but the judgments in these publications are taken to be self-evidently true: Israel's behavior in Jenin was a "war crime" because "that's exactly how Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch portrayed it" (p. 52).

To use an analogy from the US legal system, this book is the brief of a prosecutor whose purpose is to marshal every witness and every piece of evidence useful to establish guilt, and to rebut or dismiss every claim of the defense attorney. Especially useful rhetorically is the material from Israeli sources - B'Tselem, Israel's "New Historians," and its left-wing columnists - although the fact that, alone in the Middle East, Israeli society tolerates and even celebrates such self-criticism remains unacknowledged and its implications unexplored.

Much time and energy appears to have gone into this enterprise, and the documentation of his sources is rigorous. Yet Finkelstein not infrequently gets carried away with his rhetoric. The material benefits that (citing the Peel Report) he concedes accrued to the Arabs from Jewish immigration "vanished, as it were, overnight when the Zionist movement ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948" (p. 191, my emphasis, MS). But the fact is that Palestine was not "ethnically cleansed" of Arabs in 1948; significant populations of Arabs remained on the West Bank, in Gaza, and in the newly declared State of Israel. …